Coastal Wars: A Storm Foretold – Tehelka Cover Story

There will soon be one port every 28 km of the Indian coast. While Singapore has only one port, and the US 30, Gujarat will have 50 ports — one every 25 km. Maharashtra will have the highest density, with one every 13 km. Each port is linked to a private industrial hub, housing chemical factories, power plants and automobile units.

Rohini Mohan’s cover story for the November 2011 issue of Tehelka sounds the alarm on an impending crisis by the sea, as energy projects, tourism and SEZs plunder the coasts at the expense of traditional fishermen and their families.

Read the full story here.

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Sunita Narain: Where are the beaches?

The Business Standard has published an article by Sunita Narain called:  “Where are the beaches?”  based on Ms. Narain’s visit to the eroded beaches along the coast of Pondicherry.  The text of the article, dated 9 May 2011, appears below:

We were on a beach, somewhere close to Puducherry. It was a surreal sight: half-smashed houses with fronts wide open, and people still living in them. The devastation was caused not by a sea storm or cyclone, but by the eroded beach. The sea had crept up to the village so there was no protection between the sea and the village.

Why was this happening, I asked. My guides were members of the Pondy Citizens’ Action Network (PondyCAN), which has worked tirelessly to draw the nation’s attention to beach erosion.

To understand this, we walked a little distance away from the devastated village. From the beach, I could see massive granite stones piled up to build a groyne stretching into the sea. This structure, constructed to protect villages from erosion, ends up protecting one village and destroying another, explained my guides.

But I could still not see the connection. How could one small structure like this change the coastal ecology? Civil engineer Probir Banerjee and marine engineer Aurofilio Schiavina explained that a beach is not just a lot of sand. “Beaches are rivers of sand” because each year sea waves transport huge quantities of sand from north to south and south to north. During the southwest monsoon, some 600,000 cubic metres of sand is moved towards the north. Also, during the three months of the northeast monsoon (when winds are fierce), as much as 100,000 cubic metres of sand gets transported towards the south across the eastern coasts of the country.

So beaches are living creatures – winds and waves bring sand in one season and take it away in another. My teachers further explained marine science: “Then, think of the groyne as a dam in a river which will block the movement of sand, not water.” In this case, the groyne has stopped the movement of sand to the beach ahead. Thus, the beach does not grow and when the wind changes, the monsoon gets fierce, and the sea moves in. There is no beach to protect the land beyond.

The lesson did not finish yet. Our next stop was the Puducherry harbour, with a breakwater making its way into the sea to protect boats. This structure, which was built in 1986, marked the beginning of devastating changes at the coast. Once the harbour was built, it first changed the beach closest to it – the beach along the city of Puducherry.

“I played on the beach as a child,” said V Narayanasamy, member of Parliament from Puducherry and minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office. “What beach?” I asked. All I could see for miles were black granite stones piled along the ocean promenade. By then it was evening. People had gathered to enjoy the beach and the sunset. But there was neither sand nor beach – only rocks.

All this had been lost in living memory in 15 to 20 years. People had lost their playground. More importantly, a city had lost its critical ecosystem, which would protect its land and recharge its groundwater. And fishermen had lost their livelihood.

But this is just the beginning, explained Mr Banerjee. This structure, small by modern standards of harbours or ports, has spun an entire chain of changes in the beach along the coast. The groyne that we saw earlier was built because the length of the coast stretching 10 to 20 km was now destablised. We could see piles of sand accumulated before the harbour, blocking way to regenerate the beaches. Now every beach needs a groyne and every groyne adds to the problem of the next beach.

Ports are interventions in the natural ecology of coasts. But we neither understand the impact nor worry about dealing with the damage. A few years ago, Puducherry woke up to the reality that its harbour required to be rebuilt and contracts and concessions were awarded to transform it into a massive port (some 20 million tonnes annually). The citizens’ group, which was against the project, went to the court. But the developer – who, strangely, had no experience in ports, and built shops and malls – is not letting go. This is a sweet deal, which brings real estate benefits since the port concession package comes with cheap city land for cost recovery.

In this stretch of some 600 km, you can count seven ports that exist and another three are proposed. This is when each existing port is not used to capacity and is still being upgraded big time. Then why are we building more ports? Is this development? Or land grab?

Interestingly, there is an absence of policy on siting and the number of ports in the country. The Central government knows only about “major” ports and leaves the rest – permission to locate and build other ports – to state governments. There is no distinction between a major port and a state port. It is just a matter of how many one can fit into the coast as fast, and as profitably, as possible. Nobody, therefore, knows how many ports are being built. Nobody cares about the cumulative impact on rivers of sand.

Surely, this cannot be called development. Can it?

sunita@cseindia.org

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India to Map Its Coastal Hazard Line

The following is a press release prepared by the Press Information Bureau, Government of India, Ministry of Environment and Forests (the spelling and grammatical mistakes made by the Press Bureau have been left intact):

India to Map Its Costal Hazard Line to Enhance Prepared Sec- Based Hazards Like Tsunami-Like Event

08-April-2011 14:7 IST

Stereo Digital Aerial Photography (SDAP) will be used to map the coastline of the country. The total cost involved for SDAP is Rs.27crores. The SDAP will cover the 11000km arc coastline from Gujarat to West Bengal with an area of 60,000sq kms. This initiative is a critical part towards the planned management of the country’s coastal zone. Under the World Bank assisted project, the hazard line for the mainland coast of India will be mapped, delineated and demarcated on the ground over a period of five years. This will include the collection and presentation of data, identifying flood lines over the last 40 years which includes sea level rise impacts, and a prediction of erosions to take place over the next 100 years.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests has signed an agreement with the Survey of India , Department of Science and Technology, to map, delineate and demarcate the hazard line along India’s wide coastal belt. The Memorandum of Understanding for this project was signed on 12th May, 2010. The hazard line is a composite line of the shoreline changes including sea level rise due to climate change, tides and waves. The total cost of this survey is projected at Rs.125 crore.

For the purpose of SDAP, the Indian mainland coastline has been divided into eight blocks, namely, (1) from the Indo-Pakistan border to Somnath in Gujarat; (2) Somnath to Ulhas River in Maharashtra; (3) Ulhas River to Sharavathi River in Karnataka; (4) Sharavathi River to Cape Comoran in Tamil Nadu; (5) Cape Comoran to Ponniyur River in Tamil Nadu; (6) Ponniyur River to Krishna River in Andhra Pradesh; (7) Krishna River to Chhatrapur in Orissa; and (8) Chhatrapur to Indo-Bangladesh Border in West Bengal.

M/s IIC, Hyderabad in joint venture with M/s AAM Pty Limited, Australia was selected to undertake the project. The SDAP will be completed within an estimated fifteen months depending upon the weather. Based on this, maps will be prepared in 1:10,000scale and after ground verification, pillars will be erected demarcating the hazard line.

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New NDTV Campaign to Save India’s Coasts

NDTV has started a new campaign to ‘Save India’s Coasts.’ Two reporters, Sarah Jacob and Sikta Deo will travel the entire coast of India, starting in western Gujarat and ending in West Bengal in 6 weeks, reporting on the issues facing the coast along the way.

The introductory episode, featuring discussions with Sunita Narain, Director of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE); Probir Banerjee, President of Pondy Citizens’ Action Network (PondyCAN!); and key reporters in Chennai (focusing on illegal sand mining), Mumbai (detailing the destruction of mangroves for the proposed Navi Mumbai airport) and Orissa (where 14 new ports have been approved), can be seen here.

Future reports will be consolidated here, which includes the latest report on a visit to Marine National Park near Jamnagar, Gujarat, with Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.

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“A Way of Life Swept Away on a Current”

Akash Kapur writes a “Letter from India” for The New York Times about lives and livelihoods destroyed by coastal erosion in a small village near Pondicherry.  The full text of the article is given below or may be read here.

CHINNAMUDALIARCHAVADI, INDIA — For centuries this village lived in harmony with the ocean. Fishermen earned a reliable, if meager, living off the sea. Boys played cricket on the beach. In summers, while the rest of South India simmered, a gentle breeze cooled its unelectrified huts.

Something has gone wrong in recent years. In 2004, as fishermen sorted through the day’s catch, the Asian tsunami roared through the village, destroying huts and boats. No one was killed, but hundreds of lives — and livelihoods — were devastated.

Then, just as the village was recovering from that disaster, a slower, but in many ways more insidious, tragedy began taking shape. Villagers started noticing that the ocean was drawing closer. The stretch of sand in front of their huts was shrinking. The beach was eroding.

In a matter of months, the waters were entering the village at high tide, infiltrating huts and public buildings. Scores of homes were destroyed. Their owners, many of whom had rebuilt after the tsunami, were forced to retreat to rented accommodations farther inland.

The erosion eating away at Chinnamudaliarchavadi is the continuation of a process that started more than two decades ago, when the city of Pondicherry, about 10 kilometers, or 6 miles, from the village, decided to build a new port. Environmentalists warned that the port would block replenishing sand flows carried by currents from the south. They were overruled in the name of progress: Politicians promised the port would bring investment to the area.

So the port was built, in 1989, and the prediction came true. First Pondicherry lost its beach, a bank of yellow sand that I had played on since my childhood. Then the erosion began creeping north, eating away the shoreline at an estimated rate of 500 meters, or more than 1,600 feet, per year.

In 2007, several groynes — imposing piles of granite, some of which extend around a hundred meters into the ocean — were built in a desperate attempt to halt the erosion. They succeeded in slowing erosion around Pondicherry but only pushed the problem up the coast, dramatically accelerating the process in Chinnamudaliarchavadi and neighboring villages.

A few months after the construction of those groynes, I visited Chinnamudaliarchavadi and wrote an article about its problems. The devastation was evident: uprooted trees, collapsed electricity poles and an ocean that roared dangerously close to homes.

Now, revisiting some three years later, I found the destruction even more pronounced. The entire front of the village, about two or three rows of huts, had been eaten away. The beach was littered with debris: concrete and clothes and bits and pieces of Styrofoam.

A slice of a women’s public latrine, stripped of plaster, reduced to bricks and rusted steel, reclined on the narrow beach, half-buried in sand like some ancient ruin.

Standing on high ground, with waves lapping below us, M. Segar and his wife told me about the loss of their village. They talked about how the ocean had swallowed their house. Mr. Segar said he had grown up in that house, as had his father and grandfather.

They talked, too, about how difficult it had become for fishermen to earn a living. The sea had changed, Mr. Segar said. It had become rougher, more unpredictable. Not long ago, three fishermen died when their boat overturned near the shore. They had been the sole breadwinners in their families.

“The village is disappearing,” Mr. Segar said. “I try not to think about it. What can we do?”

He said that the village had made several appeals to government officials, pleading for assistance. A group of fishermen had traveled to Chennai, about 160 kilometers away, and stayed there for a week before getting an appointment with an influential minister.

Everyone promised, he said, but no one had helped. He asked whether I thought my article would make a difference. I didn’t have the heart to tell Mr. Segar that the village’s situation was only likely to get worse.

Across the country, beaches — and, with them, villages and professions and human lives — are disappearing. According to the Asian Development Bank, 26 percent of India’s shoreline suffers from serious erosion. In Goa and Kerala, hotels and beach resorts (some of them constructed in violation of environmental building regulations) are crumbling into the Arabian Sea. Villagers and farmers along the country’s 7,500-kilometer coast are struggling with rising salinity in their wells.

The scale of the unfolding disaster is overwhelming. Around a quarter of India’s population — some 250 million people — live along the coast. Their plight will be exacerbated by the predicted rise in sea levels due to global warming. Millions will have to be relocated. Millions will lose their livelihoods.

Some of the devastation is being caused by natural forces. Much of it, though, is the result of human activity: unchecked and unregulated construction, the destruction of mangroves and other natural barriers, the relentless pursuit of wealth.

In Pondicherry, the government, keen to be part of India’s rapid development, is now talking about building a new, bigger port. Environmentalists are protesting again, arguing that it will worsen an already grave crisis. Once again, they are being overruled.

Behind Chinnamudaliarchavadi, where a stretch of highway has been upgraded from a country path in recent decades, the pace of development is rapid. Beach resorts and movie theaters have gone up. Thatch huts have come down, replaced by air-conditioned restaurants and guesthouses.

The new money, the evidence of prosperity, is undeniable. Villages along the road have seen their prospects brighten, their horizons widen.

But standing on that dwindling beach with Mr. Segar and his wife, listening to stories of how their lives have shrunk, how their village is literally vanishing, it’s hard not to wonder: What’s a fair price to pay for all this progress?

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CoastalCare.org Features Article on Pondicherry/Tamil Nadu Coastal Erosion

Coastal Care, a non-profit foundation dedicated to defending the beaches and shorelines of our shared planet, has a feature (along with photos) on the erosion along the Pondicherry/Tamil Nadu coastline.

The story can be seen here:  http://coastalcare.org/2010/08/pondicherry-tamil-nadu-south-india/

Coastal Care highlights similar problems with beach erosion in other parts of the world.

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Audit: Discrepancies in Selection of Private Partner for Puducherry Port

MHA report terms project economically “unattractive”

No analysis made in selecting private partner: report

Interest of Puducherry government compromised

Rajesh B. Nair, of the Hindu, reports on a recent audit report issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on the selection of a private partner for the Puducherry port project.  The full article is given below.  An online version can be seen here.  A PDF version of the MHA audit report can be found here.

Thursday, Jul 29, 2010

Rajesh B. Nair

PUDUCHERRY: Besides finding fault in the process of selecting the private
player for the development of the port here, a team appointed by the Union
Ministry of Home Affairs has found the project economically “unattractive.”

The team, in its special audit report on the port project, has found several
discrepancies in the process followed for selecting the developer and also
in the contract agreement entered into by the developer with the Government
of Puducherry. The full audit report which runs into 200-odd pages had been
posted on the Ministry website.

The report pointed out that “no pre-qualification” criteria such as
financial status and work experience was analyzed before selecting the
developer. The criterion of selection of M/S Subash Projects and Marketing
Limited (SPML), New Delhi, the developer, was based on the
first-come-first-serve basis.

Due diligence and justification in considering the financial status of SPML
“was not” taken care of. In fact “no” analysis was made in selecting of the
firm for the development of the Pondicherry Port, the report said.

In the selection process,, the consultant who had prepared the detailed
project report was given the task to develop the port, thereby violating an
internationally accepted practice of not allowing the agency that prepared
the project report to participate in the bidding process, the report added.

The report also faulted the government for not conducting the mandatory
Environment Impact Assessment before undertaking major projects. Questioning
the government for selecting the developer without verifying the antecedents
of the firm, the report said the credentials of the developer were
“doubtful.”

Looking into the concession agreement signed between the territorial
administration and developer, the report said the agreement does not provide
the government any control over the port management and inspection during
the development stage. Also, the agreement does not have provision for
appointment of an independent engineer and development standards for the
project, which was contradictory to the guidelines issued by the Ministry of
Finance in this regard.

“Low” viability

Further, the lease rent was for “a meagre amount” and has got a direct
“revenue loss of Rs 14. 50 crore per annum.” The financial viability of the
project was also “low” and the internal rate of return with full cooperation
from all stakeholders and assuming favourable situation was “quite low.”

“Therefore it can be clearly seen that the interest of Government of
Pondicherry has been clearly compromised and the developer has been favoured
unduly by the agreement,” the report went on to add.

Adherence to all prescribed norms in allocating the work with adequate
guidance from the Ministry of Finance would have made this project a model
for other initiatives. Due to non-adherence to the guidelines of the
Government of India, the project has become economically unattractive, the
report said.

The Supreme Court after reading regulation 6 (b) of the Pondicherry Act 1962
and the relevant portion of the Indian Ports Act had come to a conclusion
that the power in respect of Pondicherry port necessarily vests in the
government of Pondicherry and not in the Central Government.

The report said, in this regard, it can be stated that “the plane reading of
regulation 6 (b) of the Pondicherry Act 1962, clearly means that any
reference to the State Government shall be construed as reference to the
Central Government. This is the correct interpretation of the regulation,”

It added, “because of this interpretation of the above mentioned regulation
a considerable damage to the powers and the responsibilities of the Central
Government has been caused. The above situation maybe because of the reason
that the correct facts in this regard were not brought before the Honourable
Supreme Court by the Government of Puducherry.”

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